The secular democratic Awami League party won one of the most violent elections in Bangladesh’s history last week. Street fighting, low turnout, and a boycott by the Islamic opposition party that made the results a foregone conclusion marred the vote. Election Day violence killed at least 18 people as protesters clashed with police and torched more than 100 polling stations.
The violent political protests sparked new fears for Christians, who make up less than 1 percent of the population. Radical Muslims pushing for an extreme Islamic government threatened violence against voters and attacked some Christians following the Jan. 5 election.
Turnout was low among religious minorities that include Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus. Muslims make up almost 90 percent of the population, according to the CIA World Factbook.
“Many Christians didn’t go to vote because they were afraid of what was going to happen to them,” said Corey Bailey, International Christian Concern’s (ICC) regional manager for South Asia. Because of recent Muslim attacks on villages and election-related violence, Christians are “spending their days in panic and fear and are never sure who they can trust.”
Following the election, Islamists attacked Catholics in Jamalpur district who had voted, Asia News reported. “Their houses were set on fire and the assailants promised to return, burn what is left and take the lands of the tribe,” Theophilus Nokrek, regional director of the diocesan Caritas, told Asia News. “Sonendra Kubi, the bishop’s brother, is in a serious condition. His wife was injured in the attack.” That report also mentioned attacks on a parish in Sherpur district.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted the election, calling it a “farce,” and demanded the results be nullified, the BBC reported. Ryan Morgan, ICC’s regional manager for Southeast Asia, explained that the BNP is made up of 18 parties, including Jaamat-e-Islami, an extremist Islamic group.
Morgan said Jaamat-e-Islami is responsible for many attacks on religious minorities in the past year and that makes the relationship between BNP and Jaamat-e-Islami very troubling. According to Asia News, supporters of BNP have committed violent acts and clashed with police since Jan. 1. Islamists violently called for anti-blasphemy laws during May 2013 protests, Barnabas Aid reported.
All this has worsened the situation for Christians.“Bangladesh is not the worst country for persecution, but it is definitely there and growing,” Bailey said. “I’ve seen in the last year it has become more violent than it was in the past.”
Bangladeshi Christians are very secretive because they fear “retaliations” for their faith, she said. Persecution generally comes from community pressure, such as refusing to share a village water well with Christians, or refusing to hire them. Employment discrimination against Christians can result in poverty. While the government is not directly responsible, officials don’t do anything about the persecution, so it continues, Bailey said.
Noel Becchetti, vice president for leader development for Asian Access, called for prayer for Bangladesh’s leaders, Mission Network News reported. “Pray that the Holy Spirit would begin to bring some sense of sanity to leaders who aren’t necessarily Christian, but they’re still human,” she said.